Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Smith Hill (Editor)

I am a HUGE Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. I even visited both THE Little House near Independence, KS, and Wilder's home in Mansfield, MO. And it's bizarre to learn here that Laura Ingalls Wilder herself never went back to The Little House, even though she and Rose tried when she was researching and writing The Little House on the Prairie. But Laura remembered it was in Indian Territory and thought it was further from Independence, KS than it is, and so they were looking around Oklahoma (understandable, after all she was only four when they moved away).

Wilder wrote this book first, before any of the Little House books. It is nonfiction (unlike the LH books) and it includes things like her little brother that died, their sojourn in Iowa, the lazy couple with their baby who were staying with the Ingalls through the Long Winter, and other details. As a first draft it did have some bits wrong that Wilder later corrected either through research or by improving memories as she spent such lengths of time focused on her past. This manuscript did provide source material for the LH books (and for a couple of Rose Wilder Lane's novels, one with the knowledge of her mother and one without.) It is so fascinating to know who was real, who was not exactly (Nellie Oleson was a compilation of three nasty girls Laura met while growing up), and what happened to t hem later. I had heard a couple of years ago that Cap Garland had been killed in his early twenties in a machinery accident, but I never even knew much of what happened to Laura's sisters after the books. Pamela Smith Hill has done extensive research, combing through census records and old newspapers, to find notices of births, death, stores, roller skating rinks, and the everyday small town life of pioneers in the midwest.

I read every word of this book, all the footnotes (well, why read an annotated book if you're not going to do that) and the appendixes. But it can be daunting and dense, so I read it a bit at a time, rarely more than 10 pages a day. If parceled out properly like this, it is a delight for any Laura Ingalls Wilder megafan. In fact, it is a must read. I will treasure this book forever.

I bought this book from my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books. I know it was very hard to find the last few months, but I just placed an order for it before it came out, and it arrived the day the book released and I had no trouble at all!

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